Friday, August 24, 2012

Review: New Super Mario Bros 2

Written by Xav Perez

Back in 2006, Nintendo released New Super Mario Bros (NSMB) for the Nintendo DS, it was the first original 2D Mario title since Super Mario World on the SNES - which is what fans hoped for but never got during the GameBoy Advance era. The game didn't exactly reach the dizzy heights of Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World but was an enjoyable return to Mario's 2D roots. It went on to become a mega success, closing in on 30 million units sold worldwide - and this isn't even a hardware bundled title.

Its success led to New Super Mario Bros Wii  which basically took the original DS game, improved it with more interesting level design and threw in a 4-player co-op mode. The reception was generally positive and it also saw similar success. Another sequel was pretty much only a matter of time.

New Super Mario Bros 2 is the latest title in what now appears to be it's own sub series within the Mario franchise and while there isn't anything particularly wrong with it, the use of the word "New" in the title is a straight up lie by this point.

This is pretty much your textbook Mario game so as per usual the princess is kidnapped, you play as Mario running to the right of the screen while jumping on enemies and avoiding falling to your death until you reach the flag pole at the end. 

Along the way you'll have access to some familiar power ups to help Mario in his never-ending quest to save Princess Peach. Old favourites return such as Fire Mario that allows you to shoot fireballs and Raccoon Mario which lets you tail swipe enemies in addition to floating gently in mid air -or even fly if you manage to build up enough running speed. More recent additions seen in NSMB such as giant and tiny Mario also make a return though neither really play a big role. In fact I finished the game without ever encountering the giant Mario power up at all.

The big gimmick, so to speak, of New Super Mario Bros 2 is coins; these things are everywhere though maybe not as much as the box art would have you believe. The game now keeps track of your coin total and ideally, Nintendo would like you to keep playing until you collect one million coins as they've hidden away a little surprise for you. I'm not going to spoil the reward but to call it extremely disappointing is probably the nicest way I can put it.

Should you decide to take on the million coin challenge you'll sometimes spot gold rings that turn enemies into gold so when you defeat them you'll be rewarded with coins as opposed to points. Gold blocks appear when you hit a 10-coin block over ten times, grab it and Mario will have a gold block on his head that is constantly feeding him coins as you keep moving. My personal favourite is gold Mario. Just imagine fireball Mario but everything you shoot turns into gold coins.

Despite these power ups, the core game within New Super Mario Bros 2 feels too familiar and nothing really changes the game in any meaningful way. One could argue that if it ain't broke don't fix and that's exactly what New Super Mario Bros 2 does; unfortunately it sticks to the core formula a little too close right down to the visuals and sound.

The original New Super Mario Bros was a vibrant smooth colourful title, the Wii sequel retained the same look but looked downright embarrassing next to Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby's Epic Yarn. The return to a handheld system means visually it's acceptable but it's not pushing the 3DS in any way and features the worst use of 3D I've ever seen.

That may have sounded a little harsh but the 3D mode in New Super Mario Bros 2 consists of simply bluring the hell out of the background objects whilst slightly separating it from the foreground. The whole thing is a complete waste and it's odd seeing Nintendo straight up ignore one of the 3DS's selling points even though last year's Super Mario 3D Land did such a great job showcasing it.

Nintendo could have easily borrowed the jumping in-between foreground and backgrounds from Donkey Kong Country Returns to make use of the 3D here but instead settled for a tub of Vaseline on your screen. Super Mario 3D Land is the reason your 3D slider goes up, New Super Mario Bros 2 is the reason why it also thankfully slides too down too.

In terms of soundtrack, it's basically what you'd expect - generally happy musical melodies that might as well be called a remix of the original NSMB soundtrack.

While this review might seem a little negative so far there is plenty to enjoy in New Super Mario Bros 2. Yes, it sticks a little too closely to what we've already seen but it's not a bad game by any means. It's still one of the better platformers money can buy and a very fun experience even if your first playthrough will clock in at just over four hours with little challenge.

Level design is well done and there are plenty of secrets hidden within them should you decide to explore a little. Mario controls fantastically thanks the 3DS circle pad and unlike other platformers on the market this game feels just right which is very important for a genre that is very focused on mechanics. Mario has a sense of weight to him and even if you're new to the series you'll be judging jumps like second nature in no time. Failing in New Super Mario Bros 2 is purely the fault of the player not the game.

As mentioned before the game can be completed in around four hours for most players but there are incentives to keep playing long after the initial playthrough. For starters there are an extra two worlds that can be unlocked if you manage to find an alternative exit to the world before it.

Coin Rush mode is also on offer and tasks you with finishing three random levels from a world under a strict time limit but rewards you kindly should you manage to get to the end without dying. This mode is also Street Pass compatible so you're able to challenge the scores that other players set, beat these and you'll get all the coins they collected on their run in addition to what you collected making that one million coin challenge a tad easier. Remember, the reward for doing so is awful... it's seriously not worth it.

The three giant gold coins scattered and sometimes hidden in every level are likely to be what appeals to most players. A level never truly feels complete until you've collected all three so if anything to going to keep you coming back, it's likely this. 

Co-op mode is rubbish and almost not worth mentioning, with a wonky frame rate and camera that stays focused on Mario at all times even though both players have their own screen. Oh and players still bounce off each other for some reason but at least it's less annoying with two players than the four in New Super Mario Bros Wii.

New Super Mario Bros 2 is a somewhat odd title to judge because despite not even attempting to do anything new, it's still a good game overall. It was great to see Mario return to his 2D roots in 2006 and again in 2009 but by 2012 it's just looking uninspired. It's not so much that 2D Mario is getting old, rather it's in desperate need of some fresh ideas and concepts to to compliment the classic gameplay.

Some of the best games in the Mario series are the ones that embrace the past yet have plenty of their own original ideas that help them stand out. The Super Mario Galaxy titles did this perfectly by tipping their hat to what came before, while making their own mark in the series.

What makes New Super Mario Bros 2 really disappointing is that we've already had the superior Mario game a mere 9 months ago and it's called Super Mario 3D Land. 

If you're a long time Mario fan then New Super Mario Bros 2 isn't going to impress but it's worth noting that to younger players who maybe have not played every game in the series this could very well be their "Super Mario Bros 3" experience. To everyone else, however, New Super Mario Bros 2 is only worth considering after you've finished Super Mario 3D Land. 

Reviewed on 3DS